Thursday, September 20, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 3a - the Catholic Tradition

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was forged by the first Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. Towards the end of the creed, a declaration is made, consisting of four 'marks' or 'notes' by which the Christian Church  can be identified : μίαν ἁγίαν καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν—one, holy, catholic [i.e. universal] and apostolic. The unity of the Christian Church is inextricably linked with all four, not just the first mark. The essence of all four marks can be found in the New Testament; and beginning in the second century, one can find descriptions of those marks in the writings of the Church Fathers. One of those Church Fathers is Irenaeus of Lyons—the following selections contain examples of those marks that would later be enshrined in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed [note: the 'marks' in bold in brackets are mine]:

 1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world [Catholic], even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles [Apostolic] and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,”and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy [Holy], and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart [One], and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth [One]. (Against Heresies, I.10.1, 2a - ANF pp. 330, 331.)

At the end of the same chapter, we read:

...the Catholic Church [Catholic] possesses one [One] and the same faith throughout the whole world [Catholic], as we have already said. (Against Heresies, I.10.3 - ANF pp. 331, 332.)

In book three of Against Heresies, Irenaeus mentions a number of heretics by name—Simon, Valentinus, Marcion, Cerinthus, Basilides—who have rejected "the only true life-giving faith", replacing it with a "diversity" of "doctrines and successions" which are "perverse teachings". He then adds:

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. (Against Heresies, III.1.1.2a - ANF p. 415.)

Irenaeus then delineates how one can identify "the tradition of the apostles"; note the following:

1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles [Apostolic] manifested throughout the whole world [Catholic]; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things [Holy], whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition [Apostolic] has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere [Catholic]. (Against Heresies, III.3.1.2 - ANF pp. 415, 416.)

Irenaeus then provides the complete list of bishops who held the episcopate of Rome from the time of Peter to the present—a total of twelve—following this succession of bishops with:

In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles [Apostolic], and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith [One], which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Against Heresies, III.3.1.3 - ANF p. 416.)

This identification of the unity of the Christian Church with the four 'marks' continues within the Catholic Tradition from the second century until our present day. I shall now provide two examples; first, from the pen of Cardinal Gibbons (19th century):

By unity is meant that the members of the true Church must be united in the belief of the same doctrines of revelation, and in the acknowledgment of the authority of the same pastors. Heresy and schism are opposed to Christian unity. By heresy, a man rejects one or more articles of the Christian faith. By schism, he spurns the authority of his spiritual superiors. That our Saviour requires this unity of faith and government in His members, is evident from various passages of Holy Writ. In His admirable prayer immediately before His passion. He says : " I pray for them also who through their word shall believe in Me ; that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us ; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." Here Jesus prayed that His followers may be united in the bond of a common faith, as He and His Father are united in essence, and certainly the prayer of Jesus is always heard. (The Faith of Our Fathers, 10th revised edition - 1879, pp. 21, 22 - PDF copy available online HERE)

And second, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


811 "This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. the Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities.

812 Only faith can recognize that the Church possesses these properties from her divine source. But their historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason. As the First Vatican Council noted, the "Church herself, with her marvellous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission." (LINK)

Shall end here for now; hope to have part 4 up in a few days, the Lord willing.

Grace and peace,



Rory said...

Great post Dave. Thanks.

If you are not Roman Catholic, don't you have to renounce St. Irenaeus as the first heretic to dare to explicitly establish the preeminence of the Roman church? It also seems like you need to have grave doubts about the faith of people, prelates and so-called "Church Fathers" who followed Irenaeus in their passive, and occasionally positive reinforcement of this teaching.

The passage cited from Irenaeus was perhaps the most important patristic text that made my journey to Rome inevitable. St. Ignatius' mono-episcopacy and St. Clement of Rome's admonitions to a church supposedly outside his authority make us step back a hundred more years, to an age when St. John the Apostle must have only recently have left the Church as its last Apostle (without having ordained any but bishops as replacements).

In short, to renounce the Fathers, as is necessary, if you reject Irenaeus about the preeminence of Rome, is not to open the door to some reformation movement that doesn't like the pope, or Transubstantiation. To renounce the teaching of St. Irenaeus and the Fathers, is to affirm the doctrine of restoration movements which claim that post-apostolic Christianity went off the tracks into full scale apostasy. Immediately after the death of the last Apostle, the Protestant needs to agree with those who see the Fathers establishing illegitimate ecclesiastical authority, while false teachings flood in to destroy the faith of the Apostles.

Mormonism comes to mind as a movement that accepts that by the 2nd Century, the church was corrupt and had lost any legitimate authority over the followers of Christ. The rest of "Christendom" comes to mind as a movement that would profess a romantic attachment to the early Christian martyrs like Irenaeus himself, who taught that we can not ignore the traditions and teachings that come from eternal Rome. Romantic indeed. Protestantism makes sentimentalists who like to be Roman-tic, without being Roman. It doesn't any sense to imagine an association with people who lived a long time ago that you disagree with, while being disassociated from people who live now because of the same disagreements.

If Protestants will insist upon honoring the post-apostolic church, they only encourage those who believe in the "preeminence", if you will, of Salt Lake City. The author of the first post in this series succeeds rhetorically because he can obscure the claims of St. Irenaeus and the Roman Catholic Church, by making it appear that "Christendom" is a big, obscure, and confusing muddle, thanks to Protestants who are neither one with themselves, nor one with Apostolic Christianity.


David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks much for your weekend post; it is an excellent supplement to my opening post. The question you raised is an important one; here it is again:

==If you are not Roman Catholic, don't you have to renounce St. Irenaeus as the first heretic to dare to explicitly establish the preeminence of the Roman church? ==

Yes, if one wants to be consistent; but, as you well know, anti-Catholic Protestant apologists notoriously 'cherry-pick' the Church Fathers.

Now, I would never argue that Irenaeus held a Vatican I view of the Bishop of Rome, but he certainly held a view that could consistently be developed into the Vatican I position—Protestants cannot make the same claim.

Grace and peace,


Rory said...

Now, I would never argue that Irenaeus held a Vatican I view of the Bishop of Rome, but he certainly held a view that could consistently be developed into the Vatican I position—Protestants cannot make the same claim.

Another important point. My position as well. I don't think the Vatican I view appeared until Vatican I. One could argue that Vatican I is a corruption of Irenaeus. I would argue that Vatican I is an authentic development. But no one could argue that Calvin and Luther are developments of Irenaeus. Protestants need to dump Irenaeus, even if it opens them up to Restorationism.

I am waiting for non-Catholics who claim to not be Protestant. Fine. You're not Protestant or Catholic and you disagree with Irenaeus? You are still a non-Protestant/non-Catholic who is in the same boat with all Protestants. You have to reject Irenaeus. Doing that throws the door open to Restorationism, because the early martyrs died for a non-apostolic faith, while pagan Rome isn't converted to what is true. The Empire that appeared to have turned to Christ merely turned from paganism to Apostate Christianity ("Irenaeusism", if you will, making the capital of the Empire the capital of Christianity).

Rory said...

The readings for the recent Sundays have strongly emphasized the theme of unity introduced by our blog host. This Sunday is the 19th after Pentecost. I will reproduce a part of the reading of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, so that we can see how the doctrinal imperative of unity leads inescapably to certain moral imperatives. If we just give up on being one, because we are supposedly in the middle of some dispensation that allows us to ignore the imperative of unity, we lose the reason given by the Holy Ghost through St. Paul, for the most basic Christian morality.

"Brethren: be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new man, who, according to God, is created in justice, and holiness of truth. Wherefore, putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. (Bold mine)

From Dom Gueranger's wonderful Liturgical Year, where he comments on the readings and prayers Holy Mother Church gives to the faithful in her liturgy we find why the mark of Oneness among the followers of Christ can never be dispensed with. Commenting on the passage just quoted, he takes us back two weeks to the Seventeenth Sunday to show where our Mother Church would lead us:

"Let us now understand the moral doctrine given us by St. Paul in our to-day's Epistle. What does he mean by that justice, and that holiness of truth, which is that of Christ, or the new man, whom everyone must put on, that aspires to the possession of the riches spoken of of in the passages already read to us from this magnificent Epistle? Let us re-read the Epistle for the Seventeenth Sunday, and we shall find that all the rules of Christian asceticism, as well as of the mystic life, are to be summed up in those words: Be careful to keep unity! (Ep. 4:3) It is the principle he lays down for all, both beginners and the perfect. It is the crowning of the sublimest vocations in the order of grace, as well as the foundation and reason of all God's commandments; so truly so, indeed that, if we are commanded to abstain from lying, and to speak the truth to them that live with us, the motive is that we are members one of another. (Only the bold is mine)

I am not trying to say that everyone who finds ways to dismiss the importance of Christian unity is necessarily a liar. But I am a little amazed if God would give us an admonition to tell the truth because of a doctrine that can be dispensed with.


Ken Temple said...

In the "rule of faith", "the faith", "the preaching", "the tradition of the apostles", that Irenaeus outlines, there are no doctrines in the list that are unBiblical and Protestants agree with all of them. AH, 1:10:1-2 (and other places also)

Irenaeus was writing against the Gnostics and other heresties that denied Jesus had a body and denied physical creation and that God the Father was God of creation, Genesis 1-2, etc. they rejected the Old Testament.
Protestants agree with Irenaeus on that.

The bishops, and church at Rome passages - All Irenaeus was saying is that at that time, the orthodox doctrine had been passed down and protected by the elders/ presbyters / bishops, and especially by the church in Rome, which was according to Irenaeus, founded by Paul and Peter" (which is not really accurate - the church there existed there before Paul or Peter got there).

What about all the scholarly articles that argue that the Latin of the famous passage on the church in Rome is saying - "Rome reflects what every church teaches, that what the church of Rome teaches is true (at that time), because Christians from all over the empire go there and so in that way, the tradition and unity is preserved." - ?

Irenaeus does not say that future bishops will be infallible or hold on to doctrine, or be protected from adding other man-made traditions and false doctrines.

Plus there is the problem of the contradiction between his list and Tertullian's list.

Ken Temple said...

Discussion of the Irenaeus passage about "every church must agree with the church of Rome":

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Once again, it is good to see you contributing to these recent threads at AF. You wrote:

==In the "rule of faith", "the faith", "the preaching", "the tradition of the apostles", that Irenaeus outlines, there are no doctrines in the list that are unBiblical and Protestants agree with all of them. AH, 1:10:1-2 (and other places also)==

I too do not believe that when Irenaeus delineates what he believes is contained within the ever-expanding "rule of faith" (regula fidei), that we find "doctrines in the list that are unBiblical". However, I do believe that most Protestants will take issue with his belief the "rule faith" teaches that, "we have received baptism for the remission of sins", and "that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God".

Here is the full context:


3. So, lest the like befall us, we must keep strictly, without deviation, the rule of faith, and carry out the commands of God, believing in God, and fearing Him, because He is Lord, and loving Him, because He is Father. Action, then, is preserved by faith, because unless you believe, says Isaias, you shall not continue; and faith is given by truth, since faith rests upon reality: for we shall believe what really is, as it is, and, believing what really is, as it is for ever, keep a firm hold on our assent to it. Since, then, it is faith that maintains our salvation, one must take great care of this sustenance, to have a true perception of reality. Now, this is what faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us. First of all, it admonishes us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate and died and raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal everlasting God; and that the eternal and everlasting One is God, and is above all creatures, and that all things whatsoever are subject to Him; and that what is subject to Him was all made by Him; so that God is not ruler and Lord of what is another’s, but of His own, and all things are God’s; that God, therefore, is the Almighty, and all things whatsoever are from God.>> (Irenaeus, The Proof of Apostolic Preaching, trans. by Joseph P. Smith, S.J., Newman Press, pp. 49, 50.)

Grace and peace,


Ken Temple said...

What about in Against Heresies?
Tertullian's Prescription Against Heresies 13 ?
Origen ? (see my article )

Athanasius (see my article)


the parts about baptism that you brought out from "the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching" (found in recent years from an Armenian copy, right? - not found in the Philip Schaff collection of EFC) - could they not be interpreted in the way that we usually handle Acts 2:38 and Titus 3:5 ?

Acts 2:38 - causal eis = because of the forgiveness of sins - because one has already repented and believed, they get baptized because they have experienced forgiveness. As the eis (in, into, for) way used "they repented at the preaching of Jonah"
Matthew 12:41

eis = at = "because of", "as a result of"

David Waltz said...

Hello again Ken,

Have good deal to say concerning your last comment, but I have been spending the day watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and commentary. Will try to get a response up tomorrow, the Lord willing.

Grace and peace,


Rory said...

Dave, hey.

I came home from work a little early today thinking about working up a post. We don't have TV but Mom does. And she is deaf. The Kavanaugh hearings were loud and clear coming out of her room and I was riveted.

Anyway Ken...With Dave, good to see you again. If we are not one about religion, might we be one about politics? No need to answer. You aren't for the Democrats either. Correct me if I am wrong. I suspect you are a better Catholic than a lot of bishops today!

Of course we disagree about religion...maybe I'll have time this weekend to reply to your interpretation of Irenaeus. Take care. It is good to see you after a long time.



Ken Temple said...

Hi Rory and David,
My wife and I were also riveted all day watching the Kavanaugh hearing.

My favorite cultural and political commentators and public servants in politics are usually conservative Jews (Dennis Prager, Michael Medved) and conservative Roman Catholics (Laura Ingraham, Ryan Anderson, Sean Hannity (except he needs to let the other side finish their sentences; and I get tired of Hannity constantly repeating his mantra about the Democrats think "we want to throw granny off the cliff" ( I can't believe every time I listen to him, he at some point repeats that line) etc., Bill Bennett, conservative Supreme Court Justices - like the late Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, etc.

Hugh Hewitt is the only Protestant that seems to be credible with a radio show.

It is shameful that today's western USA cultural and political reality has forgotten the millennia old wisdom of Deuteronomy 19:15 (Jesus quoted it in Matthew 18:16 and John 8:17 and the apostles quoted it in 1 Tim. 5:19, 2 Cor. 13:1).

The Democrats remind me of the "Taylor Machine"("go into action boys" = crush the opposition, bribes, mobs, controlling the press, etc.) in the film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

David Waltz said...

Good morning Ken,

I plan to address the issues you raised concerning Irenaeus later today after my morning workout, beach run, and lunch. Until then, I would like you to consider the following from one of the brightest Evangelical New Testament scholars of the 20th century concerning the issue of eis as related to baptism and the remission of sins:

>>Baptism is pure that conveys grace and salvation from God through Christ: it dare not be changed into a legal or legalistic requirement that is akin to the ceremonial requirement of Moses such as circumcision. God does something for us in baptism, we do we do nothing for him. Our acceptance of baptism is only acceptance of God's gift.

This is emphasized strongly in the addition: "for or unto remission of your sins." It amounts to nothing more than a formal grammatical difference whether εἰς is again regarded as denoting sphere (equal to ἐν), R. 592, or, as is commonly supposed, as indicating aim and purpose, R. 592, as better still as denoting effect. Sphere would mean that baptism is inside the same circle as remission; he who steps into this circle has both. Aim and purpose would mean that baptism intends to give remission; in him, then, who receives baptism aright this intention, aim, and purpose would be attained. The same is true regarding the idea of effect in εἰς this preposition connects remission so closely with baptism that nobody has as yet been able to separate the two. It is this gift of remission that makes baptism a true sacrament; otherwise it would be only a sign or a symbol that conveys nothing real.>> (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, pp. 107, 108.)

A few sentences later, Dr. Lenski then asked the following question:

>>And how can Ananias in 22:16 say, "Be baptized and wash away thy sins!" as though the water of baptism washed them away by their connection with the Name?>> (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, pp. 107, 108.)

Grace and peace,


Ken said...

The acts 22 verse 16 passage be baptized and wash away your sins by calling upon his name . The participle calling upon his name is an adverbial participle that modifies wash away your sins the way we are forgiven is by faith in Christ repentance and faith and that results in forgiveness which then results in water baptism as a symbol of that repentance or confirmation of it.

I don’t agree with Lenski’s exegesis.
eis can mean “ because of “

They repented at the preaching of Jonah . At there is the Greek EIS and is clearly causal Eis.
There are too many other verses that say we are forgiven because of faith in Christ .
Acts chapter 15 verses eight and nine cleansing their hearts by faith

Ken said...

And Ben Shapiro is another impressive cultural and political commentator.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Ken,

I have responded to the issues you raised concerning Irenaeus. Due to the length, I felt it best to create a new thread for it LINK.

Thanks much for your continued participation. Looking forward to your thoughts...

Grace and peace,


Rory said...

Hi Ken.

For purpose of this discussion it does not matter who is right about what Irenaeus meant regarding the primacy of Rome passage.

But the important question to be answered is about how the Church which survived the Roman persecutions subsequently understood the matter. Almost immediately afterwards, the bishop of Rome begins to assert authority over other churches and bishops. What a Catholic could see as a proper development of Irenaeus' thought, you cannot possibly accept. Whether you are right or wrong about Irenaeus, the problem remains for non-Catholics that the Christians who survived the persecution of the Roman Empire embraced the Catholic way to interpret Irenaeus.

You brought up Tertullian. He left the Catholic Church in part for the very problem we are discussing. Only a few decades after St. Irenaeus suffered martyrdom we see what I consider to be development and what you must accept as corruption: "I hear that an edict has been issued, and that a peremptory one. The Sovereign Pontiff, indeed, the bishop of bishops puts forth his edict...

It so happens that Tertullian disagrees with the bishop of Rome on a point of authority to remit sins. His criticism of the Roman Church is more pointed some chapters later where we read him opposing the idea that the keys of authority given to Peter were passed on to the Church in any way, denying any prerogatives to the successor of Peter as the Roman bishop. Speaking of him he described sarcastically, but accurately, as "bishop of bishops", he writes:

"As for your present decision (to remit the sins of adultery and fornication after penance), I want to ask on what grounds you assume this right for the Church. Is it because the Lord said to Peter 'Upon this rock I will build my Church, to thee I have given the keys of the kingdom of heaven', or: 'Whatsoever thou shalt bind or loose on earth shall be bound or loosed in heaven,' that you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has come down to yourself also, that, to the whole Church akin to Peter? Who are you to alter and subvert the plain intention of the Lord when he conferred this upon Peter personally? 'Upon thee,' he says, 'I will build my Church. And he said, 'Whatsoever thou shalt bind or loose, not what they bind or loose.'"

The first quote is from De Pudicitia, ch. 1. The second quote is from ch. 21 as translated in a volume called Early Latin Theology, S.L. Greenslade, editor, published by The Westminster Press, 1956

Not long after this, Tertullian's fellow African, St. Cyprian is at odds with Pope Stephen over Stephen's decision that where there is the correct matter, form, and intention, heretical baptisms are valid and not to be repeated should the individual seek entry to the Catholic Church. The popes are exercising so much authority even before the Council of Nicea that the non-Catholic Christian is forced to admit that ecclesiastically, the apostolic teaching was subverted very very early.

Ken, even if you have understood Irenaeus correctly, I would urge you to consider that the apostasy claims of groups like the LDS are reasonable if the body of Christians who survived the persecutions (identified as Catholic) misunderstood Irenaeus. Likewise, the apostasy claims of groups like the LDS are reasonable if those who tried to oppose Rome (the Empire or the Church), like Tertullian and the Montanists, underwent early extinction.